Can Too Much Screen Time Impact Children’s Health and Vision?
The variety of electronic devices and digital media available in today’s day and age is unprecedented. However, it’s not without concern. While these devices have improved our lives in many ways, certain issues can result from overexposure, both in the areas of mental and physical health.
Children are glued to their phones nowadays. All those activities, whether games, videos or reading on their handheld devices may be harming their vision and can be a risk factor in the development and progression of nearsightedness. Furthermore, by spending so much time on their digital devices, children limit physical activity, which can result in a host of developmental problems that may affect the child later in life.
As technology transforms the way we live, those who will be impacted the most are our children. Parents and professionals are concerned with the impact these devices currently have on our children, and they want to find the best ways to manage the time spent using them in order to keep kids healthy and strong.
What are the Health Risks Associated with Too Much Screen Time?
When children spend over 2 hours a day on their digital devices, they may experience headaches, eye strain, reduced attention span, irritability and poor behavior. These symptoms could affect every aspect of the child’s life, including academic performance and social interactions. Moreover, too much exposure to digital devices can also compromise their physical health and can result in vision issues, poor posture and other complications.
Can Too Much Screen Time Lead to Vision Issues?
The more time spent staring at screens, the higher the chance of developing vision-related problems. For example, dry eye syndrome is on the rise, which is caused by reduced blinking while gazing at a screen. Myopia (nearsightedness), which is on the rise at an alarming rate, has also been linked to the increased use of electronic devices in children’s lives.
The Link Between Screen Time and Myopia
The prevalence of myopia has grown significantly in the last few decades, a trend that coincides with the increased use of computers and digital devices by children. In Singapore, a staggering 90 % of today’s primary and secondary school are myopic, and in North America and Europe, a stark increase in myopia has also been observed.
Computer Vision Syndrome
“Computer Vision Syndrome” is a term used to explain the negative impact that prolonged use of the electronic devices can have on our eyes and visual function. The strain on the eyes is especially problematic in children, who can develop difficulties shifting their vision from near to far, and properly integrating their vision and motor skills. The harmful effects of these devices can render handwriting, sports activities, cutting, and any other skill involving the coordination of vision and motor skills all the more challenging. This syndrome can also affect children’s academic performance.
How Blue Light Negatively Impacts Vision
LED screens used for computers and other digital devices emit a broad spectrum of light, of which a small portion is a high-energy visible light called “blue light.” Studies have shown that over time, certain bands of blue light may be harmful to the light-sensitive retina of the eye.
How parents can limit the harm caused by blue light
During childhood, the lens of the eye is exceptionally clear. This allows the greatest amount of blue light to penetrate the retina. Therefore, it is paramount that parents take precautions in limiting the time their children spend on these devices.
However, whenever your child does use the devices, there are ways to protect their eyes from blue light.
- Purchase glasses with lenses that filter out the amount of blue light that enters the eyes from computers, e-tablets and smartphone screens.
- Choose anti-reflective coating for the optical lenses, as it blocks blue light.
- Purchase glasses with photochromic lenses. These are sun-sensitive lenses that block some blue light indoors and automatically block additional blue light from the sun.
- Make sure you use polaroid sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful blue light emitted by the sun.
Speak with the friendly and professional staff at Mt. Airy Medical Eye Center's Myopia Control Program in to learn all about the different ways you can block out blue light, to keep your children’s eyes healthy and safe.
Overexposure to Digital Screens Disrupts Sleep
The use of electronic devices prior to going to sleep makes it not only more difficult to fall asleep, but also disrupts sleep during the night, and causes poorer quality sleep. This is because the blue light emitted by the devices tricks the brain into thinking it is daytime.
Blue light plays a critical role in disrupting our circadian rhythm, also known as our sleep/wake cycle, and its disruption can be harmful to our health. This is particularly problematic for children, as they require more sleep than adults; even a half-hour less of sleep can negatively impact their behavior the following day. Less sleep can result in daytime drowsiness, poor academic performance, weight gain, and obesity-related health issues. Moreover, sleep disruption may lead to mental health problems, such as mood disorders, higher levels of melancholy and feelings of loneliness.
Digital Devices and Mental Health Problems in Children
Parents report that the more time their kids spend in front of screens, the more irritated they become. Kids can become overstimulated from screen time without realizing it, which can result in moodiness, increased anxiety, higher levels of irritability, and poor behavior. These symptoms could affect every aspect of the child’s life, including academic performance and social interactions.
Inactivity By Overuse of Digital Devices Leads to Health Problems
Inactivity in children is ever-growing. Screen time is primarily sedentary in nature, and the more time kids spend sitting, the less exercise they do. This can result in weight gain, poor muscle development, and many other physical issues. The lack of physical exercise also negatively affects brain development, which is needed for everything from physical coordination to communication.
Tips to Limit Screen Time in Young Children
The goal is to encourage children to engage in other activities important to their health and development and to establish positive media viewing habits that will keep their visual, mental and physical health in check.
- Avoid digital media use in infants under 18 to 24 months of age.
- If you want to introduce digital media to your 18-24-month-old, choose high-quality programming and make sure to use the media together with your child. Solo media use at this age should be avoided.
- For children 2 to 5 years of age, limit screen use to 1 hour of high-quality programming per day.
- 20-20-20 rule: make sure your child takes a 20-second break every 20 minutes and views something 20 feet away.
- Avoid fast-paced programs and any violent content.
- Make sure to turn off screens (including television) and other devices when not in use.
- Refrain from using media as the primary method of calming your child. Although there are cases when media is a useful soothing strategy, doing so regularly can lead to problems with setting limits and can hinder a child’s emotional regulation.
- Make sure that your child doesn’t use his or her digital device one hour before bedtime.
Technology is the present and the future. By following these measures and tips, you’ll go a long way toward keeping your tech-savvy child seeing clearly and feeling healthy for many years to come.
Make sure to schedule an annual eye exams to ensure that your child’s eyes are healthy and seeing well. We will perform special tests and provide suggestions to reduce the risk and symptoms of computer eye strain.
At the Mt. Airy Medical Eye Center's Myopia Control Program, Dr. Boaz Schwartz, O.D., FAAO evaluates and treats patients throughout Mount Airy, Frederick, Baltimore, and Gaithersburg in Maryland